Lisa Forbes resignation

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More worries that dodgy social media likes can prove to be misplaced as the Labour candidate who wants to replace the equally dodgy Onasanya cannot resist aimlessly liking anything she sees on twitter in an effort to grab as many votes as she possibly can. There is no time, now, for her resignation and replacement so she will have to plough on despite loud condemnations of her stupidity.

Denials and assurances have followed this morning and may well be eclipsed by the Trump cavalcade and by Sadiq Khan’s attempts to pull focus with an article saying that Trump is a neo-Nazi.

What does all this mean? – well, just as Russia tightens its grip on what can and cannot be published, the UK reveals rather well that we are absurdly liberal in what we say and allow to be said here both publicly and privately. What needs to change is not the limits of censorship, castigation and monitoring but a better way of thinking that is more inclusive and kinder. Incidentally, it’s what needs to change in Russia too.

More on Russian Censorship

I got called to task yesterday for barking on about Russia’s censorship of gay issues when I drew a picture of Elton John. A well-meaning pundit wrote to me and complained that my concerns about russian state homophobia were ill-judged when there are still states like Saudi Arabia that execute people for being gay.

My concern however, is about censorship and dubbing. The Elton John issue is just an example.More than that, it demonstrates as does all the HTB rubbish, that I personally witnessed, that Russian censorship is effectively privatised. As Putin’s regime loses power, individuals and their companies vie with one another to do what they think the state would like to see- they are all currying favour and their common tool is to manipulate the media.

What Russia is doing today goes back really to the time of Suleiman the Magnificent who simply stopped the developing media in its tracks. The Western-style free press was forbidden, and this vigorous censorship persisted until the 19th Century. It was, in fact, a very successful attempt to foster nationalism. So, when we see this happening in our own time, in whatever country, we need to look beyond the censor to see what is actually going on. It is not just about what we are trying to stop, and how it is stopped but also what is being encouraged.

Modern Russia plans to set up a form of confessional religious studies across secondary schools. This alone I find worrying.

The parallel laws against Homosexuality- section 28, Federal law no. 436-FZ of 2010-12-23 (July 2012) and Article 6.21 (30 June 2013). There are similar laws in China.

The much more dangerous issue is about how to present “truth” than simply about suppressing a minority group. And remember that the current law in Russia is no different in intent from the law (section 28) put out under Margaret Thatcher – to protect children from “teaching of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. Anne Widdicombe’s comments yesterday suggest that she continues to honour the underlying and homophobic principle behind that law btw, in so far as she implies that homosexuality is something that can, should or might be cured by medicine… ie: it is a disease and, as the russian law puts it, is “not “traditional”. These two laws are simply representations of forms of prejudice that go back to the mediaeval period and probably early Christianity where a great deal of effort was given to establishing what was natural and “against nature”. David Attenborough and others demonstrate very nicely that homosexuality is present in many animal societies – it is therefore fundamentally “natural”, so that argument is demonstrably stupid. The British law was a response to the threat of AIDS and the 2013 Russian law, I suggest, is a response of growing nationalism and a desire to toady to the nastier (sic Trump) realities of Orthodoxy.

Religion

Like Catholicism, Orthodoxy has an aggressively homophobic side and, as we are seeing now, many of the more vocal clerics promoting anti-gay legislation were themselves living double lives and so knew exactly where to look…(think pope Paul VI to start with, the notorious Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo of Colombia, and Metropolitan Serafim/Leonid Mikhailovich Chichagin- but it is all to be found in Frédéric Martel’s book “in the Closet of the Vatican“)…. as for the saudi issue, it is relevant but the history of Islam is more complex- not only did it take a puritanical turn in the 9th century but until the Napoleonic conquests at the end of the 18th century/ 19th Century the Muslim world had a reputation for being a bit louche- the anglican/ scottish churches, for instance, criticised the “East” for its liberal standards- think Henry Mondral’s comments about “voluptuousness” when he visited Syria in 1695, and Thomas Rowe, for example, not its intolerance, and the Ottoman empire as well as nomadic Arabia, Egypt and Morocco attracted western writers- Byron (“I can’t empty my head of the east”), Gide, Genet, Wilde, Forster as well as probably Lawrence of arabia…it is only the advent of the austere and feared religious police, the mutawwa’in and the pincer-grip of Wahabi’ism that we see today in Saudi. (check out another book: Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside a Kingdom in Crisis) remember that until very recently homosexuality (a very modern word too) described what people did and only recently has become about who they are (identity). Remember that Oscar Wilde was married…in muslim culture, esp in Iran where there is a written Persian record (think of the hedonism in the 9th Century arabian nights, the Mughal figurative art in Islam, the rise of music in islam – despite modern islamic injunctions against music) gay sex was an incidental activity not something that defined a person. And, as in Greece, it was both tolerated and a manifestation of the love of beauty, celebrated in poetry. The love object, incidentally, in alot of arabic poetry (Rumi, Hafiz, esp Bulleh Shah who loves Inayat Shah) is often, maybe because of the fierce protection of women, a boy and not a girl.

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I must write something about “Kismet”, the amazing Minnelli film from the 1950’s. It prefigures Disney’s Aladdin and is such a mix of the Arabic, Turkish, Indian and Chinese. Multiculturalism long before Guy Ritchie!

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Everything in our power

Mrs May says all the right things: She acknowledges the terror, the fact that people lost everything in the Grenfell fire, that £5 million will be made available to help with immediate needs, that it will get to the people who really need it, and regarding other 1970’s tower blocks – “We will do everything in our power to make sure these buildings are safe”. That said, the overwhelming message from the media is of the authorities failing to take notice, of both Sadiq Khan and the Prime minister being heckled in public. In the middle of this, Mr Corbyn is seen hugging people, giving the human touch that is so badly needed.

The BBC talks about misreading the “national mood”. Certainly, a mood has developed as surely as it did in the days after Diana’s death but we must be careful that this is not something exploited by the press.

It is relatively easy to say the right thing. In a media age, it is important to be seen doing the right thing. It is no good being told by others that the PM is “distraught” about the fire. The election is over and this is not a time to be playing for votes- what we need in times of crisis is the political machine to move seamlessly to support the individuals hurt and to be shown to do so. People need to feel reassured, not simply told that they are reassured. Mr Portillo did a brief interview criticising the PM because “she didn’t use her humanity. She met the emergency service, a good thing to do no doubt…” As Michael Portillo knows, there is more fluidity between people of differing parties in Westminster that we can possibly guess. He has famously got a good relationship with Diane Abbott, going back years before they share a tv sofa. What he and others should be calling for, at this time, is a more co-ordinated approach across the political divisions. There is a need for displays of humanity as well as the raw stuff of making money and services available to victims and getting answers. All of this is needed but mostly, we need a display of unity. We need an uplifting massage of calm, not a continued and subversive election campaign and certainly not an underhand leadership campaign.

As in Machester, it falls to the Queen once again, who does the job of leading the Nation impeccably.

Grenfell aftermathTIM

 

 

Three Last Things

Three issues have dominated this week. The first is the vote in the House of Lords that frankly at this stage comes across as self-indulgent and posturing, and the second is the continued failure of Mr Corbyn. I think the two things are linked. It is, of course, Corbyn who should have questioned whether the Government’s current approach to Brexit is “unreal and optimistic”, but it fell to Sir John Major to make that point and in those words. In both cases, of the Lords and Corbyn, there is a manifestation of ideology over realism, and this is not good for the way we are seen in Europe. At  a time when we need to be united and strong, we look divided and weak. That brings me to the third point which is “Indy 2” and Nicola Sturgeon’s flirtation with yet another referendum.

A change is always an opportunity for a fresh start. I wish more had been achieved between Mrs May and Nicola Sturgeon at the beginning of Mrs May’s premiership. But when article 50 is triggered that is also a significant change and a time once again to mend fences and move forward. I hope we are ready for that and Mrs May has shown with her visit to the US that she is ready to bite the bullet! Certainly, there is an opportunity to think of flexibility in the way Brexit is implemented across the UK and Nicola Sturgeon’s recommendations should perhaps be taken seriously. At the same time, her threats to break up the Kingdom are foolish because she cheapens what amounts to a solution by tying it too strongly to the tails of her Independence kite.

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As for the EU citizenship thing-

For what it is worth, I think we should have offered unilateral residency to all EU citizens currently in the UK and it should not have been dependent on what Mrs Merkel agreed or thought. The Lords agrees with me, now, though my argument has actually hardly been mentioned- specifically I have argued that granting citizenship now effectively offers no more than is already on the table, but it signals so much more and it provides security. It is the right thing to do. Because, by the time Brexit is negotiated and implemented, almost all those here on the date of the referendum would have qualified anyway for British residency, assuming they have collected the relevant paperwork. I also think, incidentally, such an offer would have established a claim to the moral high-ground, would have been a show of goodwill at a time when there is already and going to be a good deal of nastiness and would have put pressure on Brussels to match our goodwill removing this issue from the negotiations. We could not be blamed for using people as leverage, and we could have got on with the important issues of how we will do trade and politics together. There are better things to negotiate than this issue of citizenship and we need all the goodwill we can muster to get the best deal. More to the point, while I am mindful of the 900,000 Brits abroad, the fact remains that they are spread over diverse countries each with its own naturalisation processes. The EU does not have a “one-size fits all” approach to granting citizenship. For example, in Greece, citizenship might well come packaged with demands for military conscription. We would have done well to have set the terms for this debate, but we missed that opportunity. Whatever the Lords recommend at this stage is all a bit late and it looks shabby. If this offer was to have been on the table at all, to be effective, it needed to have been divorced from Mrs May’s triggering of article 50.

Bluntly, whether an undertaking by Britain now to grant unilateral citizenship to 3 million EU residents when or just after we trigger article 50, amounts to much the same thing and Theresa May is right: At this stage, it must become part of the package of Article 50 negotiations, because that is how it will now be perceived. We missed the boat. The ideologues were too late and quite simply, in pressing the issue at this stage, they have weakened the argument.

There is a time for action, and that time passed a while ago!

So, while I support the idea, that is what it should remain. A great idea, and one that should indeed have been enacted nearly 6 months’ ago. But it is too late now.

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Mr Corbyn suffers from the same nonsense. He does not know when to speak and when to shut up. Of course, he should have been more vigorous in leading his party against Brexit. He was not. And as a follow-on, of course, he should not have whipped the same MPs who followed his pathetic lead in arguing to Remain into now supporting for the Brexit bill. It is not that his support of the bill or his lack of support would have seriously damaged its passing through the chamber, anyway, but his job is to challenge the government to present the best possible case, to make our legislation more robust. Instead, he thinks he imagines he is still on some sort of activist campaign. Mr Corbyn seems to have given up his effective role in the commons- if he cannot govern, maybe he thinks, and even he must recognise that he will never be Prime Minister, then he might have concluded that it is not really worth the effort at all. He is wrong and he is arrogant: he thinks there is something noble about the idea of contra mundum, but this King Canute approach to politics is simply stupid. Politics is about getting things done- governing the Polis, the city. It is entirely practical. It is not the slogans of the banners of protest that matter- it is the quality of the debate that Corbyn leads that dictates the way policies are defined- and he has long-since abandoned that responsibility. A shame because it is actually the one job he might have done well. As a result, other peoples and groups, whether they be the Ken Clarke’s, (Wonderland!) the Judges or the Lords have taken on the job Corbyn demonstrates he is incapable of doing- the debate on Brexit has shifted, therefore, to an unsightly squabble with the House of Lords. It is unnecessary. Good debate is about raising the issues that matter before they hit us. Today, when we should be controlling the Brexit issue, instead, because of Corbyn’s arrogance, we are increasingly reacting to events as they hit us. If the debate does not take place in the proper forum, it moves elsewhere. Paul Drechsler, the President of the CBI who should have been on board the Brexit bus, was left to observe recently that he feared the PM would open “a Pandora’s Box of economic consequences.” There is another vote coming that many Lords think is more important than the issue of the EU Citizens here (and note the numbers 3 million to 900,000: in terms of parity, it simply does not add up, but there we are! This is about principle not some sort of straight-forward tit-for-tat) — that parliament should be given the chance to veto whatever is agreed by the negotiating teams, so once again all a bit late, and why would anyone want to enter negotiations with the fear that everything will be rejected anyway- not by one of the 27 countries in the EU but by our own parliament! It is madness. But once again it confirms that because Corbyn has failed to do his duty, others, including two of our recent Prime ministers feel they must take over and do it. They are all playing catch-up, they are washing our dirty-linen in public and it is all too undignified. The man responsible for this mess is Mr Corbyn- he is not only messing up the Labour party- he is seriously damaging our Government and our reputation at a time when we need to pull together.

A great Victory

The by-Election result last night is not only a resounding success for and endorsement of Theresa May, but it is also a brilliant kick in the pants for the appalling Nuttall and the whimpering leadership offered by Corbyn. While Labour beat UKIP in Stoke, the votes were down and in fact only the Liberal party increased its overall share by any significant amount (Conservatives up by nearly 2%, as was UKIP, but labour down by 2% as were the Greens). In Copeland, however, a real turn-around (UkIp down by 9%, Labour down by 5% and Conservatives up by nearly 9%) and the first time in years that a sitting Government (7 years in) has taken a seat from the opposition. I was delighted to see Prof Green among the crowds- if rap is the voice of youth, he is in the right place at the right time. And Theresa May was quite right, just a few minutes ago to visit the seat to personally congratulate Trudy Harrison. Mrs May said,

“Trudy isn’t just somebody who talks about things, she actually rolls up her sleeves and gets things done.”

Or as Mrs Thatcher would have said, “Simply Rejoice!” It is time to see the Conservative party as the party that will deliver social reform. Even in a traditionally safe seat, the traditional labour voters know that Labour can no longer be trusted to deliver!

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